The Corner

White House

Mueller Truthers vs. Realists on the Left

Attorney General nominee William Barr attends a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2019. (Jim Young/REUTERS)

There’s a divide forming among left-of-center journalists. Some are dead-enders and truthers. They’re dug into their foxholes on remote islands of the Philippines and they’re prepared to keep fighting for another 50 years. David Leonhardt of the New York Times is usually an excellent exemplar of what non-crazy progressive thinkers are saying, but for two days he’s been hinting darkly that Attorney General Barr’s summation of the Mueller Report must be deliberately misleading and that the truths contained in it are likely to be far more damaging to President Trump than everyone presumed after the weekend’s events. From Leonhardt’s newsletter this morning:

But I think much of the media was too credulous about Barr’s letter, producing banner headlines and chyrons that treated it as an objective summary of Mueller’s work rather than as a political document meant to make President Trump look good. And it was very much a political document.

Barr, the attorney general, works for Trump. [etc.]

There is a lot of this going around, but other left-of-center voices are saying: Let’s take a deep breath and acknowledge something. Trump was legitimately elected. He is not Putin’s stooge. He didn’t get to the White House by cheating. Let’s talk about how the United States got to the point where Trump was our choice. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (!) is saying this. In her fashion.

Farhad Manjoo of the Times argues, sensibly enough, that “Collusion Was a Seductive Illusion,” noting that

There was no collusion. The president was not a Manchurian candidate. And we can’t lay the blame for this whole thing on Vladimir Putin.

Indeed, the truest horror in Mr. Mueller’s finding is that we did not need Mr. Putin to be pulling the strings. We know now that under our shambolic democracy, a man as unfit as Mr. Trump really can legitimately acquire all the terrifying powers of the presidency without being controlled by a foreign puppet master.

Unlike Leonhardt, Ryan Lizza of CNN (who said the media’s Russia coverage was “somewhere between about right and not quite aggressive enough”), Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post and other apologists, Manjoo calls for a reckoning in the media. He says Mueller’s report

lands like a rotten egg on a political and media establishment that had gone all-in on its own self-serving — and wrong — theory of the case. Before we embark on yet more investigations, it is worth examining, now, why the collusion fantasy proved so irresistible to so many of us — and what we all might have done with our time instead.

David Brooks, not exactly a member of the MAGA chorus, takes the measure of how scandal-based politics substitutes for thinking, arguing, persuading. He writes:

The sad fact is that Watergate introduced a poison into the American body politic. Richard Nixon’s downfall was just and important, but it opened up the mouthwatering possibility that you don’t need to do the hard work of persuading people to join your side. Instead, you can destroy your foes all at once through scandal.

The media and Democrats should take the L and move on. They went all-in on a collusion narrative. It went bust.

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